Album Review: Bumblescratch (2016 London Concert Cast Recording)

“What is this that I see”

Robert J Sherman’s musical Bumblescratch played a high-profile charity concert at the Adelphi Theatre last year and keeping up the energy behind this piece of new writing, the original band and cast made this London Concert Cast Recording at Angel Studios, under the auspices of the folks at SimG Records. It’s a canny way to keep up the profile of a show that only a handful of people got to see and a useful tool for those that did to reassess the score.

Sherman’s extensive family legacy (A Spoonful of Sherman) means that the family friendly ethos is never far from the surface and it is something that has emerged in his previous work (Love Birds). And in some ways it is a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that he clearly has a gift for melody, sometimes gentle, sometimes nagging (in the best way); and a curse in that it is so ingrained in his musical identity that it is hard to escape it. Continue reading “Album Review: Bumblescratch (2016 London Concert Cast Recording)”

Review: Carousel, London Coliseum

“The crowd of doubtin’ Thomases
Was predictin’ that the summer’d never come”

The English National Opera have had great success with their move into semi-staged revivals of classic pieces of musical theatre. Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson lit up the Coliseum with Sweeney Todd in 2005, Glenn Close received an Olivier Award nomination for last year’s Sunset Boulevard, and so this year, we’re being treated to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s 1945 classic Carousel. I say treated…but with singers Alfie Boe and Katherine Jenkins cast as the show’s ill-fated lovers, this production is a bit of a challenge for musical theatre lovers. Read my three star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets here.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 13th May

Review: Bumblescratch, Adelphi

“At least a rat ‘as got an excuse”

In the cut-throat world of the West End, introducing a new musical is an undoubted challenge so it is quite gratifying to see the backers of Bumblescratch going all out to make its mark with this gala concert launch. With merchandise available, a full-throttle social media campaign in train, and a top-notch cast and creative team making the most of their two week rehearsal period, there’s certainly no lack of ambition here.

Set in London during the Great Plague of 1665 and Great Fire of 1666, the show is told from the perspective of plague rat Melbourne Bumblescratch and the anthropomorphic nature of the musical should come as no surprise once you learn it was written by Robert J Sherman, who has both form of his own (Love Birds) and an impressive family history (A Spoonful of Sherman) to live up to when it comes to writing a tune or two. Continue reading “Review: Bumblescratch, Adelphi”

Review: Sunset Boulevard, London Coliseum

“Has there ever been a moment
With so much to live 
for?” 

Dammit – one of the key rationales behind my Broadway blowout last winter was seeing actors I didn’t think I’d otherwise have the chance to see in the West End, Glenn Close being chief among them and thus I forked out a pretty penny to see her in Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance. So naturally her return to these shores was announced a few months later with a reprisal of her Tony Award-winning performance as Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard.

And as with last year’s Sweeney Todd here at the Coliseum too, director Lonny Price and the ENO have returned to the semi-staged format which allows them to mount a bare-bones production and still charge full whack for tickets, prices thus go up to £150. I understand that money has to be made, especially for an organisation in as perilous a position as theirs and they say at least 400 tickets at every performance is available at £25 or under (altitude training not provided though…) Continue reading “Review: Sunset Boulevard, London Coliseum”

Review: The Smallest Show on Earth, Mercury

“Forget this gateau, this means war”

When is a new musical a new musical, especially when it has music by Irving Berlin? The Smallest Show on Earth manages it by adapting the 1957 film of the same name and then sprinkling it with a selection of Berlin hits, both well-known and the not-so-much, to create something really rather adorable. Writers Thom Southerland and Paul Alexander have tailored this raw material beautifully, dovetailing the gently bittersweet humour of the British film with the instinctive melodiousness of Berlin’s songwriting into a heart-warmingly lovely new musical comedy. 

Struggling screenwriter Matthew Spenser and his new wife Jean are agog when they discovered a long-lost relative has bequeathed them the Bijou cinema but aghast when they discover it is a total flea-pit. In order to get a decent offer from the rivals at the Grand cinema across the way, they pretend to be doing it up to make it a going concern but as they restore and repaint and get to know the eccentric locals that work there, the couple soon find that the picturehouse offers more opportunities than just old movies and oddballs. Continue reading “Review: The Smallest Show on Earth, Mercury”

Review: Grand Hotel, Southwark Playhouse

“Come begin in old Berlin”

Finally, a traverse staging that feels properly justified. It’s still highly dependent on where you sit – despite being a little late, I was able to secure a great vantage point from the middle of the back row from where the full length of the stage for Grand Hotel was suitably visible and I was glad for it. Thom Southerland’s musicals at the Southwark Playhouse have become something of an annual fixture now, becoming big hits for them (Parade) even if they haven’t always floated my boat (Titanic…).

Based on Vicki Baum’s Grand Hotel, the book by Luther Davis swirls around the residents of this Berlin establishment in 1928 over one fateful weekend. A grande dame of a faded ballerina, a typist dreaming of Hollywood, an aristocrat who has lost his fortune, a businessman facing ruin, a man who has little time left to live, their stories and more intertwine elegantly and fluidly in a constantly moving state of flux which captures some of the unpredictability and increasing darkness of interwar Germany. Continue reading “Review: Grand Hotel, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Sweeney Todd, London Coliseum

“At the top of the hole sit the privileged few”

And it is mostly the privileged few who’ll get to see this lavish English National Opera production of Sondheim’s oft-revived Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street as stalls seats will set you back an eye-watering £95, £125 or £155. Somewhat cheaper seats are available from the upper circle upwards but still…* Lonny Price’s semi-staged production (with its nifty fake-out of a beginning) was first seen in New York in March 2014 but unsurprisingly, given it featured Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel as Mrs Lovett and the demon barber himself, it declared “there’s no place like London” and has now taken up residence in the Coliseum alongside a cast of nearly 40 musical theatre veterans (and Thompson’s daughter) and a lush-sounding  orchestra of 60.

Thompson and Terfel may be the headline names but the real pleasure comes in the luxury casting that surrounds them. Philip Quast and John Owen-Jones bring a richness of vocal to Judge Turpin and Pirelli respectively, Alex Gaumond and Jack North both mine effectively Dickensian depths to Beadle and Toby and there’s something glorious about having the marvellous Rosalie Craig here, even in so relatively minor a role as the Beggar Woman as her quality shines through despite that wig. Matthew Seadon-Young and Katie Hall as Anthony and Johanna are both really impressive too, their voices marrying beautifully as they respond intuitively to the textures of David Charles Obell’s orchestra. Continue reading “Review: Sweeney Todd, London Coliseum”

Review: The Mikado, Charing Cross Theatre

“The Japanese equivalent for hear, hear, hear”

Though I am most familiar with the score, I’ve never actually seen a production of The Mikado before. The Pirates of Penzance was my Gilbert & Sullivan show of choice, due to a childhood obsession with the film version, and there have been precious few opportunities to see much G&S (the all-male versions aside) in London in recent years. Director Thom Southerland has had great success with chamber musicals like Parade and Titanic (even if I wasn’t that much of a fan of the latter) so news of a radically reconceived version, set in a 1920s fan factory, provoked more interest than concern.

It’ll be interesting to see how those who know the show better react but for me, it is highly entertainingly done. Lyrical updates include a predictable attack on reality TV wannabes but also a truly witty, and bang-up-to-the-minute, sift through political mis-steps in Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko’s list, delivered with a twinkly mischievousness by Hugh Osborne. And though I was one of just a few to apparently catch it at this performance, there’s a great Strallen reference in amongst many others during Mark Heenehan’s ‘A More Humane Mikado’ and what a fetching Mikado he doth make too.

But almost more successful than these contemporary references is Southerland’s decision to set it in the 20s. The Hobson’s Choice vibe of the factory fits nicely into the interpretation with Jacob Chapman’s Pish-Tush as a shop steward of sorts but the production genuinely revels in the period detail – Jonathan Lipman’s costumes are all vibrantly coloured dropped waistlines and smart spats, and Philip Lindley’s design makes good use of period fonts to evoke the surroundings of the Titipu Fan and Umbrella Factory.

Joey McKneely’s choreography is the show’s ace though, capturing the cheeky energy of the era and applying it to the camaraderie of the factory workers. So the “little ladies” are given charismatic agency (perhaps even inspiring the machinists of Made in Dagenham) with their kicks and flicks, and the company come together beautifully in the stirring Act One Finale (usually the highlight of any G&S show) – seriously, the “with joyous shout…” sequence looks and sounds just sensational and instantly made me want to see it again.

MD Dean Austin and his fellow pianist Noam Galperin give a wonderfully rich account of the score on their baby grands and there’s delights aplenty in the resourceful company. Rebecca Caine is malevolent yet misunderstood as a vocally outstanding Katisha who just wants to be worshipped, and Leigh Coggins’ Yum-Yum makes a winsomely youthful rival who is equally precise with her voice, backed up excellently by Cassandra McCowan’s appealing Pitti-Sing and Sophie Rohan’s amusingly sullen Peep-Bo. Just the treat for a most entertaining night at the theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 3rd January

Review: Carnival of the Animals, Riverside Studios

“C’est parfait!”

Little is it known that Paris actually has 21 districts. And that in the 21e arrondisement, humans and animals live side by side. And that in that corner of Paris, they put on a show every day – the Carnival of the Animals. But the animals are tired, they’ve lost their enthusiasm for the theatre, their star turn has gone missing and they can’t stop arguing. It is only when a chimpanzee, a zebra, a parrot and a lioness arrive breathlessly in the square, determined to join the carnival, that they decide to carry on, but the newcomers are hiding a secret. And watching over all of them is neighbourly dress-shop owner Mademoiselle Parfait, who despite her friendly demeanour perhaps isn’t quite all she seems either.

Inspired by Saint-Saëns’ musical opus of the same name, this Carnival of the Animals maintains a similar family friendly ambience to create a really rather charming piece of musical theatre. Andrew Marshall’s book weaves a likeable story about finding one’s own self-worth and appreciating others’ differences in with the slightly darker sub-plot – nothing too sinister, think pantomime villainry – and the whole thing is peppered with a bunch of amiable songs from composer Gavin Greenaway and lyricist Roger Hyams. Continue reading “Review: Carnival of the Animals, Riverside Studios”